The "Compleat Film-Maker"-From Titles to Features

American Cinematographer, March 1977 | Go to article overview

The "Compleat Film-Maker"-From Titles to Features


The artist whose dynamic graphics introduced an exciting new dimension into motion pictures now ranges across the entire spectrum of film-making

Saul Bass has exerted a strong influence on the graphic aspects of films for nearly 25 years. He has directed short films, motion picture titles/special sequences/prologues/epilogues, television show openings and television commercials. His "WHAT MAN CREATES" was awarded an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Bass-created "arm" symbol for "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM" created a whole new approach to motion picture advertising and marketing, while his main title credits for such pictures as "THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, PART 2", "SECONDS", "GRAND PRIX", "EXODUS", and "SPARTACUS", among 40 others, has given the motion picture experience a new dimension.

Recently he directed his first theatrical full-length feature film for Paramount. Time Magazine said of "PHASE IV", "... good, eerie entertainment, with interludes of such haunted visual intensity that it becomes ... a nightmare incarnate."

From his Los Angeles headquarters, Bass has also created corporate identity and packaging programs for such firms as AT&T, Alcoa, United and Continental Airlines, Quaker Oats, Hunt-Wesson Foods, Continental Baking and W. P. Fuller & Co.

In the following interview he discusses various aspects of his work:

QUESTION: With "CARMEN JONES" and "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM", you revolutionized motion picture credits and trademarks. How did you get into this field in the first place?

BASS: Through my graphics. I began to design symbols for films. Otto Preminger wanted me to design a symbol for his film, "CARMEN JONES". I had done a symbol for Otto for the ad campaign for "THE MOON IS BLUE" and I had done the graphic work and symbols for various corporations. After the "CARMEN JONES" symbol was designed, I asked Otto, "How 'bout we make it move?" He said, "Terrific, let's make it move, "and that was the beginning.

QUESTION: Once you were into titles, it was your approach that made the difference. How did your approaches evolve?

BASS: My attitude was that when the first frame of film appears, you have begun to tell your story. That doesn't mean that you have to start your story at that point, but it means that you have to accept the notion that that first few minutes is the beginning of your presentation. The curtain is up. It doesn't go up as in the old days when the director shot his first scene. It goes up with that first frame no matter what is happening. And what you do at that point has an effect on the perception of the film.

Until then, nobody had ever really dealt with film or with the starting process from a strong graphic point-ofview. Nobody had dealt with the whole problem. And nobody had dealt with film who had come out of the graphic design discipline.

The very first pieces of film that I did, such as "CARMEN JONES" and "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM", were really graphic designs translated to film. Graphic designs that moved. That was a very new notion. It's not new today, not only because I've done it, but because of others who followed.

"THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM" was a title that consisted of a sen'es of white bars on a black background that moved in an abstract way - which suggested by the jerkiness and stridency of the movement, and the extreme contrast of the forms, the kind of distortion and stridency of the film itself. Eventually, these strident, spasmodic forms evolved into the symbol of The Man With The Golden Arm, the arm. That was a new notion because nobody had successfully married the two ideas.

"CARMEN JONES" did the same thing in a slightly different way. A live-action flame over a black rose, highly overcranked, not just slightly, but 8-10 times, causing it to become a moving design rather than a flame.

QUESTION: So you approached this as a graphic problem, came up with a design and then translated it to film? …

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